Saturday, July 21 , 2018, 8:03 pm | Fair 68º


Bill Cirone: Proposed State Budget Cuts Shortchange Students

We're already 46th in the nation in funding per student. Are we really going to cut $4.8 billion more?

Educators in Santa Barbara County and throughout California take strong exception to the budget proposal put forth by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in light of its devastating impacts on our students and schools.

G.K. Chesterton once said, “Education is simply the soul of our society, as it passes from one generation to the next.” The magnitude of a $4.8 billion proposed cut to education is so staggering that we believe we are fighting for the very soul of our society. It is that important — and the current proposals are that outrageous.

The $4.8 billion proposal represents the largest cut ever proposed for public education. To put the amount in perspective, a $4.8 billion cut is equivalent to $800 for every student or $24,000 for every classroom. Depending on a district’s circumstances, these cuts will require laying off teachers (up to 107,000 statewide), increasing class sizes (up to 35 percent statewide), and cutting back even further in the arts, nurses, counselors, critical support services and maintenance.

California has the highest educational standards in the nation. Yet, according to the nonpartisan Education Week, California’s funding per student, prior to the proposed cuts, is 46th in the nation, well behind states like Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas, which have set their state standards at a lower level.

It is an outrage that we find ourselves fighting so forcefully just to maintain our 46th-place national ranking.

New York Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote a commentary about how the genius of American leaders during the industrial revolution was the “explosion of education to create the highest quality workforce on the planet. That quality workforce was the single biggest reason the U.S. emerged as the economic superpower of the 20th century.” Brooks went on to call for a “new human capital revolution, so that the U.S. can recapture the spirit of reforms like … the high school movement of the 20th century, and the G.I. Bill after World War II.”

I hope Gov. Schwarzenegger and members of the Legislature are listening. California has the seventh largest economy in the world. David Brooks is right — our economic health and global competitiveness are all about developing our human capital by making a long-term investment in quality education.

There is no question that the proposed budget reductions to public education are fundamentally inconsistent with the state’s goal of improving student achievement — a goal that is a social and economic imperative. As a state and as a society, we write off an entire cohort of students only at our own peril. And make no mistake about it: that’s what these cuts would do.

Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposed draconian cuts for education are uncalled for, short-sighted, counterproductive, and fly in the face of the public will.

Proposition 98, which established a minimum funding floor for education, was supported by voters to make sure that students and schools would always be protected. It is the will of the people that public education is too valuable to shortchange during difficult times. California schoolchildren did nothing to create the current budget crisis and their education is part of the solution, not the problem.

The truth is that California’s budget problem is the result of poor planning and the state’s ongoing “credit-card” financing and “smoke and mirrors” manipulations that do not address the structural issues at the heart of the problem. To come to grips with the state fiscal crisis it is imperative that we show political courage in addressing structural reform.

We call upon our elected officials to support our children, our schools, and our families by addressing the fiscal crisis in a responsible fashion that protects what is most important, our human capital. We ask that these policymakers take a leadership role in crafting a solution to this structural financial crisis in a way that does not penalize children and their education.

It is simply unacceptable for our state per-pupil funding to fall below the already shameful ranking of 46th in the nation. Where is the rage?

Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County superintendent of schools.

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